Ink cartridge full... Printer says no

Ink cartridge full. Printer says no

Sometimes - and beat us, we don't know why this happens - ink cartridges suddenly decide to start playing up.

If you find that your prints are blotchy and jarred, but the cartridge isn't empty, your beloved printer may have fallen prey to patchy ink syndrome (OK we made that condition up, but you get the gist).

Here's some possible reasons for patchy ink even when your cartridge isn't anywhere near empty.

You've just changed your ink or toner cartridge

On buying a new ink cartridge, it might not work when you first put it into the printer. This can be for a number of reasons – it's a new cartridge, for example, or there's a problem with the print head.

The best thing to do is give the ink cartridges a right good shake first off - honestly, this usually works! But if it doesn't, it could be for one of these other reasons.

There's something up with the print head

Problems with print heads usually happen when old cartridges are taken out, because air can enter the print head, disrupting the ink flow.  However, this isn't a biggie.

Nearly all printers will have a 'clean print head' function built in to them - have a read through your printer's manual or fiddle around on the menu screen (that's what we'd do) to find out how you can access it.

The clean print head utility flushes the fresh ink through – you might find you need to run it a few times, though.  Another issue is that you might find there's something lodged in the print head somewhere that's affecting a proper flow of ink.  Grab hold of some tweezers and remove the offending blockage.

Remember too that print heads are sensitive, so make sure you treat them with care.

You're neglecting your printer

Have you fallen out with your printer? Haven't spoken to her for a while? Not printing regularly is a common cause of problem prints because the ink can dry up.

You don't have to start printing like a madman, but consider running a few sample prints every couple of weeks or so, just to keep things ticking over.

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Best practice: Getting the most from your printer

Best practice: Getting the most from your printer

Printers - they cost a ruddy arm and a leg, don't they? All the more reason to keep them in tip-top shape then! While it might be easy to simply place your printer on the desktop and leave it untouched, a little best practice and TLC can make your printer last well into its old age, says Tom Coley.

General care and maintenance

While there are some online guides that suggest you should be as fastidious when it comes to cleaning your printer as when you brush your teeth, at INKredible we're not so demanding.

We recognise that you can't be cleaning your device every five minutes - which is why a little regular care to keep things nicely ticking over is more important than any kind of obsessive maintenance.

A good marker is to give your printer a once-over every month or so. Just a general inspection and a spring clean.

Get hold of some proper printer cleaner or even a printer cleaning kit. While it might be tempting just to stick some washing up liquid in a bucket and use a cloth, a little investment in a proper cleaning product is a good idea. And if you use it sparingly, it should last ages.

Stick some printer solution on a cloth and wipe the outside of your printer – and remember to always turn your printer off at the mains before you clean it or look inside it.

Perform a simple maintenance check by opening the hood and checking all the inside parts are looking OK. You can also clean these parts too – we recommend consulting the printer manufacturer's guidelines for how best to clean its inner parts though.

And when your printer isn't in use, there's lots of printer covers you can buy to keep your machine snug as a bug!

Getting what you want from your printer – prints and photos

Right – on to the business end of things. Making sure your printer is printing as effectively as possible.

You'd be surprised how a little tinkering can help you really improve your prints.

Optimising for photo printing

How to make your photo prints better? It's really not that difficult – you've got nearly all you need at your fingertips.

While it's easy just to bring up a photo and send it to print on default settings, there are a number of adjustments you can make to your printer's settings that can really help.

Access the settings panel and take a look at things like quality, resolution, format, size, and colour and see how they affect your print-outs – maybe even print a few sample pages to compare differences.

As an example – take a look at the different printing modes you can use. For standard mono prints you're best off  with 'draft' or 'standard' mode (its name depending on printer but you get the gist). But by switching to 'best' or 'optimum' you'll notice a big difference.

And you needn't use up loads of unnecessary ink. When it comes to printing something standard, switch back to draft mode and you'll recoup a bit of ink.

We also have a range of guides on printer and monitor calibration we think you'll find useful – why not check them out.

Technical issues

Sadly, printers occasionally break down or decide to stop working randomly. But before you pick up your printer and throw it through the nearest window, hang on a sec – you will probably find the problem is entirely fixable.

Take a look at our dedicated set of support topics – we're pretty sure you'll find a guide that'll troubleshoot your problem.

Software updates and online support

Keep an eye out on your printer manufacturer's website for any important updates that are released.

One of the most important are printer drivers, which help your computer communicate with your printer – so they're really key when it comes to photo printing. These are released fairly regularly, so be sure to check now and again. You'll find driver updates really do improve the productivity of your printer in the long run.

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Stuck in a paper jam?

Stuck in a paper jam?

It always seems to happen at the most inopportune moment, doesn't it? There you are, gently feeding the paper into the printer. You click send, the printer whirrs, only for it to stop abruptly. Paper jam.

Now, we know it's difficult, but resist your first instinct to throw the printer out of the nearest window. It'll make a mess of your room and you won't have a printer anymore.

Paper jams are just one of those frustrating things that happen. Printing should be a simple and easy thing to do, and usually it is. It's just now and again, and it's pretty rare, that the paper gets stuck in the printer.

Sorting the jam

The first thing to do if you have a paper jam is turn the printer off. You're about to stick your hand in the machine so make sure it's not connected to any power source.

Next, see if you can actually see the paper. It might be half sticking out of the paper tray or something – if so, try and 'feed' it out. You'll probably find the firm-but-slow technique works well here – grip the paper hard but pull it out slowly but surely. The key thing is to make sure you don't rip the paper – this could leave a little scrap of paper lodged somewhere which could cause lots of problems.

Still not sorted? Then open the printer 'hood' and slide out the ink or toner cartridge so you can have a proper look inside – you'll probably find the paper has got itself lodged in here or behind the rollers somewhere. Again, adopt firm-but-slow and manually remove it. If you can't do it this way, try moving the rollers – this should help coax the paper out of hiding.

What could you do to prevent it happening again?

Sometimes a print jam just happens. However, if you find it's happening quite a lot, there could be something specific that's causing it. There's a few things you could look at.

Paper tray – a paper tray is pretty robust, but make sure you don't overfill it. Try reducing the amount of paper in the tray and just adding more when you need it.

Correct paper – sounds a little obvious, but make sure you're using the correct paper for your printer. If you have a standard mono printer for black-and-white prints, use standard paper, not card or photo paper. These could clog up your machine and cause problems.

Printer itself – if you can't see anything obvious that might be causing a problem, you might need to give your printer a spring clean. A good place to start is the printer rollers – these could have become clogged up with dried ink or toner. If this is the case, removing them will probably sort it.

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